The Names and Status of Characters in Genjimonogatari : How Difficult Translation Is in Foreign Languages



The Names and Status of Characters in Gen


imonogatari: How Difficult Translation Is in F oreign Languages

Song Kwi-Young 1. Introduction

Genjimonogatari is well known as one of the most famous literary pieces in Japanese literature, especially among those of lth century Heian Literature. This is the primary reason there are so many scholars and research papers which are devoted to Genjimonogatari.

Recently, we are able to come across many Genji specialists around the globe in many foreign countries, as well as various translations of Genjimonogatari in many different languages. Not only are readers able to acquire special feelings from the translated versions of Genjimonogatari, but these feelings are also able to be expressed in their own languages which are founded on their original points of view regarding the theory of beauty.

Under any circumstance, it is true that these translations acquire new meanings and analysis allows the readers' imaginations to roam more freely and creatively. These differences are definitely substantial enough to prove the existence of some distance between the original version of Genjimonogatari and the translated ones. By simply translating the original version into modem Japanese, we are able to note many cases of timid and vague sentences. This is why it is essential to give the readers as much information as possible as it will be helpful and invaluable to understanding the story.


classical literature into another language・ The many problems we must face and solve in order to translate a classical pleCe Of literature into our own modem vemacular pale in comparison to those we encounter as we attempt to translate

classical literature into a fわreign language.

By focuslng On three groups of women found in Genjimonogatari,-the

women whose names renect their social status, thewives of the upper class, and

those belonglng tO the middle class with no social status- I would like to show how direct literal translations, brier character descriptions based solely on lineage, and a

fundamental lack of understandaing of the importance of select womenwithin these

translated versions of Genjimonogatari detracts from the overall literary value of this

Heian maste叩leCe.

Asa representative who has come across many difficulties in the process of translating Genjimonogatari, I would like to try to point out some of the hurdles I

have encountered and suggest some counter-proposals for possibly translating

Genj imonogatari more appropriately and effTectively・

so, in order to better understand Hikaru Genji's complicated love story, it is necessary to explain the women's stories: how they are related to each other, their

Jealousies, and who was loved or courted rlrSt・ Throughout the story, their relationships are exposed and their secrets are uncovered・

2. Unique names of characters

First ofall, I would like to refer to the problem of how to translate the names

of characters. Everyone who has had the experience of trying tO translate them into

their own languages would understand the difrlCulties involvedwith this process・

ln Genjimonogatari there are many characters with unlque nameS・ For

example, names like; Kiritsubokoi, Fujitsubo, Yugao, Murasakinoue, Utsusemi,

Ro叫yomlyaSundokoro, Akikonomunomlya, Kokidennonyougo, Suetsumubana,


completely different from those found in modern Japanese. Additionally, these cannot be found among any other pieces of classical Japanese literature.

This fact appears prominently in the case of the names of the women courted by Genjimonogatari's protagonist, Hikaru Genji. I would like to demonstrate this by enumerating some of the names from the original version. I have selected eleven women-who are deeply involved with Genji-as they play a very important part in the story.

Now, I would like to discuss some occurrences within both Arthur Waley’s and Edward G. Seidensticker’s English translations of The Tale of Genji. Furthermore, I think it is necessary to note the descriptions of the characters found in both Waley’s and Seidensticker’s The Tale of Genji.

2.1 Topics addressed by Waley and Seidensticker in their character descriptions

Name Kineage /Kinsfolk

Special Mention Connection to Genji 1-1i Aoi,


z Genji`s wife

1-2ii Aoi z Daughter of a

Minister of the Left and Princess Omiya

z Sister of To no chujo.

z Mother of Yugiri

z Genji`s first wife

2-1 Fujitsubo z The Emperor`s

consort. z Sister of Prince

Hobukyo. z Aunt of Murasaki

z Loved by Genji

2-2 Fujitsubo z Daughter of former emperor z Mother of Reizei emperor. z Wife of Genji’s father. 3-1 Rokujo, Princess z Widow of the Emperor’s brother, Prince Zembo z Genji’s misterss from his 17th year


3-2 Rokujo lady z Widow of a former

crown prince, Genji’s uncle. z Mother of


4-1 Utsusemi z Wife of the provincial governor, Iyo no Suke

z Courted by Genji 4-2 Locust Shell z Wife of a governor

of Iyo

z Installed by Genji among his lesser kadies at Nijo

5-1 Yugao z Mistress first of To

no Chujo z Mistress of Genji after then To no Chujo. z Dies bewitched 5-2 Evening Face z A lady of undistinguished lineage z Loved by To no Chujo and Bears his daughter Tamakazura 6-1 Suyetsumubana, Princess z Daughter of Prince Hitachi z A timid and eccentric lady 6-2 Safflower lady z Improverished, but of royal orgins z Installed by Genji among his lesser ladies at Nijo

7-1 (No mention)

7-2 Akikonomu z Daughter of former crown prince and the Rokujo lady.

z Consort of the Reizei emperor

z First cousin of Genji and Asagao 8-1 Murasaki z Child of Prince


z Adopted by Genji z Becomes his second wife

8-2 Murasaki z Daughter of Prince Hyobu,niece of Fujitsubo, and granddaughter of a former emperor 9-1 Asagao,Princess z Daughter of Prince Monozono. z Courted in vain by Genji from 17th year

onward 9-2 Asagao z Daughter of a

brother of his father

z Genji’s first cousin

10-1 Kiritsubo z Concubine of the

Emperor; Genji’s mother

10-2 (No mention)

11-1 Kokiden z The Emperor’s


11-2 Kokiden z Daughter of a Minister of Right

z Wife of Genji’s father, sister of Oborozukiyo, z And Mother of the

Suzaku emperor

I would like to quote some of the typical descriptions introduced in and selected, from both Waley’s ‘List of Most Important Persons’ and Seidensticker’s ‘Principal Characters’ and both of them arranged their character lists in alphabetical order.

From this diagram alone, you can see each of the authors’ character lists have information gaps resulting from their approach to translation.

2.2 Waley’s Introduction

First, Waley says, there are the Emperor’s original consorts, Kokiden, and Fujitsubo, and one concubine Kiritsubo. The original consort, Kokiden, was supplanted by Kiritsubo and Fujitsubo. Kiritsub is Genji’s mother, and later in the story, Fujitsubo is loved by Genji. It seems completely intriguing that in this story the concubine (second wife) supplants the original consort, and the son of the concubine made love to his stepmother, the Emperor’s second new consort, whose affections he returned with ingratitude.

Also Waley says, Genji had a wife Aoi, the Princess, and a second wife Murasaki. Additionally, he was in love with two women, Asagao and Rokujo; the Princess, from his 17th year and onward.


In these texts, the readers are not provided with enough information about them from Waley’s introduction. The information I find lacking are the details about their relations with and/or love of Genji.

2.3 Akikonomunomiya

For example, Waley omitted Akikonomunomiya from his ‘List of Most Important Persons’. We can assume the ‘~miya’ in her name (Akikonomunomiya) implies that she is a member of the Emperor’s family as well as being a Princess to the previous Crown Prince. However ‘Akikonomu’ means ‘she likes autumn’. What kind of intentions are behind her use of the name ‘Akikonomu’? Also, there need to be some explanations regarding why the daughter Akikonomu suddenly appeared in the story of Genji and Rokujyomiyasundotoro. In my opinion, there are a few reasons for this and I would like to itemize them and combine them into a coherent whole.

First, Akikonomumiya traveled to Ise as a priestess with her mother Rokujyomiyasundokoro. Mentally Rokujomiyasundokoro was deeply hurt so she thought she couldn’t continue living in Miyako anymore. This occurred in the autumn.

Secondly, when she talked with Genji regarding which season each of them preferred, she gave a list of strong points about why she favors autumn.

Thirdly, when Genji built the Rokujyoin-the paradise of Genji’s ideal land found on the huge Rokujyo residence Genji inherited from Rokujyomiyasundokoro- Akikonomu was living in the area referred to as autumn.


and Genji ended unhappy as rumors of the ‘soul incident’ stayed afloat until Akikonomumiya was adopted by Genji and became his stepdaughter. On the other hand, her external features were eminent enough to have caught Genji’s interest. However, Genji made every effort to control himself as he raised her and made her to be the consort of Reizei Mikado. People called her Akikonomuchugu, which as we know means a consort whose name is ‘Akikonomu’. As a result of this, Genji became an enormously powerful father with a consort for a daughter. Also, he became a master in reality, as well as in name, of Rokujyoin which completed his life’s wealth.

3. Seidensticker’s Introduction

Secondly, I would like to think about ‘Principal Characters’ introduced by Edward G. Seidensticker .

We are able to realize that these descriptions are based soley upon their kinsfolk . Therefore, it is very difficult to know not only which women are deeply involved with Genji but also which of them was loved or courted by Genji. Even Murasaki, the woman most cherished by Genji, was simply described as the “Daughter of Prince Hyogo, neice of Fujitsubo and granddaughter of the former emperor”. From this description, we see that Seidensticker has only taken the character’s blood relation seriously.


3. 1 Kiritsubokoi

For example, Seidensticker did not mention Kiritsubokoi. There are the names like, Fujitsubo, Kiritsubokoi, RokujyomlyaSundokoro, and Kokidennyogo,

whose names renect their high social position. The i-tsubo'found in names like Fujitsubo, indicates the places each of the concubine were offlCially permitted to stay in the royal court. The ending, '・nyogo'found in the name, Kokidennyogo, denotes

her majesty the Queen.

AIso, there is at least one exception to the rule, Kiritsubokoi, who is the mother ofGenji. In this case, both i-tsubo'and '・koi'are found in the same name, so it is not certain whether or not there truly exists a big difference in authority between

'-tsubo'and `・koi'. Generally, the women whose names include ~-koi'Occupy the

lowest position among the royal concubine. Therefわre, their situations are extremely weak offlCiallyand nothing lS guaranteed. Women of this position do not have their own places to stay near the hall containing the Mikado's chamber. Despite these conditions, Kiritsubokoi would travel a long distance and pass in舟ont of the other

women'S places in order to devote herselfto the Mikado, as was舟equently required

of her.

Asshe headed to the Mikado's chamber, many of the other women would have watched her passlng through仇eir places舟om behind delicate reed screens. lt was enough to make the other women burnwith jealousy.

Finally, Kiritsubokoi was moved to Kirilsubo舟om her previous place which was orlglnally a bit far舟om the Mikado's chamber, where she then delivered Prince

Hikaru Genji. From this situation, we are not only able to understand the tragic life

she experienced but also what led her to become the mother of the novel's hero, Genji.

3.2 Even]ng Face


Seidensticker’s renderng of the characters’ original names in English, such as, Evening Face, Locust Shell, and Safflower Lady. Each of these names are the literal translations of the original names, Yugao, Utsusemi, Suetsumubana. Generally, it is accepted that the writer, Murasakichikibu, had a particular image intended for each character. For example, ‘Yugao’ connotes the image of the white yugao flower blossoms found on a summer’s evening. The frail appearance and feeling of forlon completely match Yugao’s character. This begs the question of whether or not the literal translation of Yugao into the English name ‘Evening Face’ leaves the average western reader with an image of frail and forlon or something completely different .

3.3 Locust Shell

We can say the same about ‘Locust Shell’ and ‘Safflower Lady’. ‘Locust Shell’ is the name translated from ‘Utsusemi’ which should leave the reader with multiple impressions. The term, ‘Locust Shell’ reminds us of the real shape of a cicada shell which is a bit far from the long and deep afterimage.

In fact, the ‘-semi’ of ‘Utsusemi’s name more commonly refers to cicadas and locusts. But there are differences between cicadas and locusts. The cicada makes a shrill chirping sound and has thin fragile wings. On the other hand, locusts usually migrate in swarms and eat all the vegetation in a district. The locust, is known as a bad omen or plague in Christianity. Finally, the ‘shell’ of a cicada reminds us of a hard outer cover or firm frame work not like the fragile gauze mantle over Utsusemi’s shoulders which she threw when she fled away from Genji. Therefore, I do not think ‘Locust Shell’ is an appropriate translation of ‘Utsusemi’.

3.4 Safflower Lady


to produce red color・ It was very popular in the Heian period so it was very simple to draw out why her name is Suetsumubana and her nose is unusually red・ But舟om

'safnower Lady', the image is not clear whether the lady likes sa冊on Rowers or the

lady resembles saf&on flowers closely・ Additionally, the image most western readers have of the Samower is 'bright'and 'charmlng', Which is very far舟om the real

image of the woman, 'Suetsumubana'・

These cases show us how difficult translation typically is, as both Waley and

Seidensticker aremiSslng relavant character information・

4. Women who do not inc)ude social position

Finally, I would 一ike to think a little more about the women,・Utsusemi, Yugao, suetsumubana- do not include social positions in their names・ These women belonged to themiddle class. Taking into consideration HikaruGenji's status and circumstance and given the Heian period's moral standards, it is not beyond imagination for him to have had several noble and profound women of aristocratic orlgln aS lovers・ However, it appears extremely unique thatmiddle class women

would be courted by Hikaru Genji, the Prince ofKiritsubo Mikado・

I would like to discuss a bit more the love story between Genji and these middle class women, like Utsusemiand Ugao. Their social status is definitely not appropriate enoughto be Genji's partners・ In addition to that, one woman was ma汀ied and the other woman was the mistress of another man when they were loyed and courted by Genji. From this very uncommon scene we are able to conclude that they were earnestly desired and visited by Genji, de卑ing any inconvenience or pe叩lexity.


Utsusemi was brought up in the middle class too. One day Genji visited the house of Kiinokami, the stepson of Utsusemi, for Genji’s Katatagae. Katatagae is a tradition of the Heian period that involves “changing directions” of travel depending on the fortune of the day.

At that time, however, Utsusemi was visiting Kiinokami with her stepdaughter of 16 or 17 summers. Genji saw her refined appearance and admired her and after being rejected by her, he quickly departed. It made him feel special rather than uncommon. He was so seized by thoughts of Utsusemi that he couldn’t bear his wretchedness. At the end of his patience, he visited the place she was staying under cover of darkness and made her younger brother go ahead. Despite his efforts to conceal his presence, she recognized Genji’s figure. Filled with sudden terror and utter bewilderment, she threw a fragile gauze mantle over her shoulders and fled silently from the room. Her name, Utsusemi, was found in a poem Genji wrote that compared the scarf which she had dropped in her flight to the dainty husk which the cicada sheds on some bank beneath a tree. While Utsusemi was joined with Genji and her heart against him, she found, much to her surprise, that Genji occupied an uncommonly large share of her thoughts in the depths of her heart.

These cases-Utsusemi, Yugao, Suetsumubana-are most particular meaning the writer, Murasakishikibu, intended to describe some of completely new style of love. That was not anything but the pure and radical love completely free from all, even social position, and marriage status.


5. Conclusion: Descriptions for the Women Closly Associated with Genji And, it is, in my opinion, necessary to think further about each description. Thus, I would like to make some suggestions regarding character descriptions.

Suggested More Complete Character Descriptions for the Women Closely Associated with Genji

Group Name Translation /

appropriate personality Connection to Genji 1) Whose names reflect their high social position.

Kokidennyogo z Emperor’s first concubine. z Strongly hoped her

son would become the crown prince.

z Antagonistic relationships with Kiritsubonoue and Genji. z Feels uneasy about

comparisons between her son and Genji.

z Feels jealousy toward Kiritsubokoi.

z Her son became the Crown Prince and the Suzaku Emperor.

Kiritsubokoi z The daughter of a former minister, who died early in her life. z Despite her low

concubine status, the Emperor loved her deeply due to her attractive appearance and warm heart. z The Emperor and

her love was often compared to that of the Chin Dynasty Emperorand Yokihi from the poem Chogonka.

z Genji`s mother died early in his life.

z Genji’s outstanding appearance, called ‘Hikaru Genji’ based on resemblance to his mother.

Fujitsubo z Her appearance closely resembles Kiritsubokoi z The Emperor felt

sadness after losing Kiritsubokoi and accepted based primarily on her resemblance to Kiritsubokoi and

z Loved by Genji as her affection filled the void left by his mother’s passing. z Genji was permitted to enter

her chamber until he was 12 years old, after which time he was suddenly prohibited. z She and Genji truly loved

each other.


her blood line. z One of the most

attractive woman according to Genji. z Has a good rapport with Genji as seen while playing the Koto and the Fue. z Her image lives on

forever in Genji’s heart.


z She devoted her life to keeping the birth of her son a secret.

z The prince, born out of secret love, became the Reizei Emperor.

z Refuse Genji’s continuing pursuit of love.

z Became a Buddhist nun. z Asked Genji for his support of

their son, the Reizei Emperor. Rokujo

miyasundokoro z Refined and elegantz As the consort of the former Crown Prince, she was very proud.

z Suffered a ‘Soul Incident’ which wounded her pride

z Genji loved her due to his curiosity of a refined mannered lady.

z Fell head over heels in love with Genji

z Become estranged.

z Went to Ise with priestess, her daughter, Akikonomumiya z Handed over her residence Rokujoin to Genji and asked him to raise and support her daughter, Akikonomuniya. Akikonomumiya z Daughter of

Rokujomiyasundok oro

z Became the consort of Reizei Emperor

z Her appearance hooked Genji’s interest z Genji made every effort

possible to control himself and supported her being a consort. 2) The legal wives of a member of the upper class Aoinoue z Desired to be a consort of the Crown Prince z Her father, the

Minister of the Left, forced her to marry Genji.

z At the Aoi-matsuri, an oxcart accident troubled

Rokujomiyasundok oro ultimately lead to Aoinoue’s death. z Rumoured to have

suffered a ‘Soul Incident’

z Married life was not harmonious.

z When she bore Yugiri the only officially recognized son of Genji, she became be witched and died.

Murasakinoue z Naive and unsophisticated. z Daughter of

Hyobukyonomiya and his


z Genji first saw her when he visited Kitayama for undergoing mental treatment. z Genji sympathized with her



second wife. z Has a blood line as

niece of Fujitsubo. z Her Mother died

early in her life. z Grandmother, a

Buddist nun, living in Kitayama for recuperation. z She was raised by

her grandmother z After her

grandmother passing, she left alone, and occupied to be accepted Hyobukyonomiya and rude stepmother and sisters.

extremely before moving to her father’s house.

z Genji educated her by himself as his ideal woman.

z Cherished her most of all. z Amongst akk t5he women,

she was most commonly associated with Genji. z Lived in the spring area, the

main residence of Rokujoin. z Due to Genji’s unexpected

marriage with

Onnasannomiya, she was shocked and developed a disease, her heart, especially,was seriously wounded.

z Thus she was determined to devote herself to Buddhism. z After her passing Genji lost

his motivation to live. z Genji went into a forest and

faded away. 3) Do not include social positions in their names. These women belonged to the middle class.

Utsusemi z Born in the middle class.

z Married old Iyonosuke as second wife after his wife died. z Had grown stepson

and stepdaughter. z Became a Buddihist

nun due to being courted her by stepson.

z Genji visited her stepson’s, Kiinokami, house for Katatagae.

z Genji met her there. z Loved by Genji but she

rejected him repeatedly as she is a married woman. z Despite her situation, Genji

loved and praised her in his mind for a long time. z As she fled from Genji, she

threw her fragile gauze mantle, her namesask, over her shoulder’s.

z She showed us, the readers, alternative type of love not found in the rest of the story. Yugao z Born in the middle

class. z Mistress of

Tonochujo. z Bore his daughter,

Tamakazura. z Concealed herself due to Tonochujo’s wife’s jealousy. z Name gives us a specific Image of

z Met Genji when she was staying at Go-jo near his nursemaid’s house, who was the mother of his servant, Koremitsu.

z Presented Genji with a yugao flower and Waka.

z Genji came to visit her frequently and concealed his true identify.


Frail and Forlon.

Suetsumubana • D aughter of Hitachinomiya. • Her image is timid

and eccentric. .Her name

‘Suetsumubana' came from her ugly appearance. • Her nose was

unusually red.

alternative image more and more.

• Hesitated staying at Goてjo, so she went to Nanigashiin with Genji.

• At Nanigashiin she was bewitched and died vainly. • His servant, Koremitsu,

bumed her corpse secretly • Genji came down with an

enormous emotional sickness due to the shock of her death. -GDeensjpi ite her ugly appearance, symphasized with her and her condition, and he determined to support her. • While Genji was exiled to

Suma, she waited for him, confident that he would return.

• Genji was inspired by her smcenty.

• Installed by Genji in the Rok国型in.

This time, 1 tried to suggest a couple of more appropriate and needed ways to describe the characters.

Keeping the original names of the characters, especially in the case of Genjimonogatari, is essential as the original names include valuable information. Any character introduction should be required to introduce such things as culture, tradition, and custori1s so the reader is more informed.

One cannot help but notice a couple of facts about these names. First of all, these names provide us with a specific image of each character's appearance and propensity. Secondly, these names show us each characte町r乍social status. During the Heian period, the capacity of the people and their social status were the most basic elements needed to determine their rank and circumstances under the very strict Heian system.


personalities are very essetional facts that work to help the reader fully understand the story of‘Genji and the women most closely associated with him'.


Bowring Richard, (1998), The Cu/tural Background, Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press

Enji Fumiko, (1989), Heroines of Genjimonogatari, Japan, Kodansha

Field Norma, (1987), Three Heroines and the Making og the Hero -The Splendor of Longing in The Tale ofGenji・, Princeton: Princeton U. Press

Keene Donald, (1971), LANDSCAPES AND PORTRAITS -Appreciations of Japanese Culture-, Japan, Kodansha Intemational/USA Ltd.

Seidensticker Edward G., (1976), The Tale of Geゅ" New Y ork: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Waley Arthur, (1970), The Tale ofGenji, London: Tuttle Company, Inc.




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